Schedule and Assignments

Fall reading list (in order)

Wood, Edison’s Eve. Doubleday, ISBN 1-4000-3158-3.

Descartes, Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy. Hackett, ISBN 0-87220-4200.

Shakespeare, The Tempest. Norton, ISBN 0-393-97819-2.

Hobbes, Leviathan. Penguin, ISBN 0-14-043195-0.

Swift, Gulliver’s Travels. Penguin, ISBN 0-14-143949-1.

Shelley, Frankenstein. Norton, ISBN 0-393-96458-2.

Class Schedule

Typical weekly schedule (Wednesdays and Fridays are reading and writing days)

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday

Faculty Seminar
(faculty only)


Writing Workshop


Book Seminar

Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch

All-program meeting


Book seminar


College-wide Governance
(faculty only)



All-program meetings (APMs): On Monday afternoons, we begin our work for the week together with faculty lectures or text workshops. On Thursday afternoons, we end the week with further talks by the faculty or a film, and with an informal tea and cookies. Students are invited to prepare snacks to share, and to bring reusable cups and tea fixings. We will provide hot water and black tea.

Book seminars: On Tuesday afternoons and Thursday mornings, we will break up into three groups to discuss the week’s text. Each session will begin with a brief Seminar In-Class Writing Assignment (SINCWA) on the text. Be prepared to write for about 10-15 minutes, in legible handwriting, when you first come to seminar. (If you arrive late, you forfeit that day’s SINCWA. This is very bad.) After the SINCWA, we work together to open up a book’s meaning and to try to learn as much as we can from it. We also try to learn from each other. The book seminar is the heart of the program. We need full, honest, earnest, curious, generous participation in the discussion on everyone’s part if we are to succeed in our inquiry. Note too that these are book seminars. Our attention will be focused squarely and sharply on the books before us. And the books must be before us: you must bring the book to the seminar. Coming to seminar (or all-program meetings, for that matter) without one’s book is akin to attempting to build with wood without the proper tools (or the wood itself). This program is about books. Books will be our constant companions.

Writing tutorials: On Tuesday mornings, students meet in groups of 11-12 students to work on papers-in-progress. Each seminar group is divided into two writing groups, A and B. Between weeks 2 and 9, the writing groups take turns writing essays, with A students composing in weeks 2, 4, 6, and 8, and B students composing in weeks 3, 5, 7, and 9. During the weeks when they are not composing new essays, the groups revise their essays from the previous week and write critiques for students in the other group. In the tutorials, half of the students will be As and half Bs. The students from the group “up” that week will present their papers, either reading their essays out loud or in some other manner, and listen to advice from students from the other groups. We will explain this process in more detail early in the program.

Off-Campus Performances: Each quarter, we hope to spend an evening having dinner, followed by at least one local theatrical performance that will contribute to our common work.

Second week conferences: In the second week, the faculty meet with their seminar students to discuss their work in the program. The aim of these conferences is to get to know you a little better, to chat informally, and to make sure you know where to find us on campus. These meetings will be scheduled soon.

Reading and writing in The Human Element

In this program, we’re reading and writing all the time.

We read and re-read our books, notes, and each others’ essays. We scribble marginalia in our books, keep notes in lectures and seminars, sling ink on quizzes, draft and revise interpretive essays, critique others’ essays, take tests. We aim to foster habits of reading and writing that enliven our minds and create fertile ground for enduring discussions, writing efforts, and future work in college.

Here we describe the reading and writing assignments that we require from you in the fall.

Slow (but timely) reading: You must complete the reading assignments before the seminars. Read slowly and carefully, with careful attention to the details of the text. For the most part you are not reading for information; rather, you are working your way slowly and carefully into the world of the text and trying to understand its meaning. Think of it as a meeting of two minds: your mind and the mind behind the book. In order to make the book come alive, it needs your imagination, openness, and respect for the author. As we will come to see, reading can be an act with ethical demands and implications.

Marginalia and Reading Journals: The kind of reading that The Human Element wishes to foster is active and fully engaged. You must continually talk back to your books in writing, and through writing.

As you read, take marginal notes to help you keep track of the ideas in the books and to record your responses to passages. If you are loathe to write in your books, devise another method that will work to achieve these same ends: sticky tabs, post-it notes, index cards to slip in the book. You can discuss these kinds of reading strategies with your seminar leader.

In addition to marginal notes, you should keep a reading journal in which you copy and comment on important passages, raise questions, and elaborate on the thoughts and responses that your marginalia merely index. There is no right or wrong way to do this, but you should develop a method of journaling that works for you. It should record vital information about the book, as well as your thoughts and responses. The reading journal is also a good place to do some free writing before you start an essay.

Lecture and seminar notes: Take detailed notes when the faculty members present their lectures. These lectures are all ripe, juicy stuff, and you won’t want to forget any of it. We are aware of technology that would record the lectures or make transcripts easily available to students, but we eschew it on moral and pragmatic grounds. You will learn more effectively by active, engaged recording rather than by passively swallowing information. Also, take notes in seminar; this helps you follow the discussion, cite other students’ claims, and write down the questions that you want to bring up. The seeds of your papers will be in your marginalia, reading journal, and lecture and seminar notes.

Quizzes, a.k.a. Seminar In-Class Writing Assignments, a.k.a. SINCWAs: Most seminars begin with a brief in-class writing assignment. Typically these ask you to comment on terms and quotations from the texts, though they do other things as well. One of the aims of the SINCWAs is to help faculty understand what sort of reader you are, and to see how you spontaneously engage with the central aims of texts. SINCWAs will help us to be better teachers, and to attend more closely to your individual needs as readers and writers.

Essays: Every other week beginning in week 2, you will complete a short (3-5 pages) interpretive essay on a text or a collection of texts. In these, you discuss one or more passages in the text, stake an interpretive claim on the passages and the text as a whole, and argue for that claim. Essays will be exchanged online through a process to be described in class.

Critiques: During the weeks when your group is not posting an essay, you will serve as a Dedicated Reader (DR) for two other essayists. You collect their essays from the online site, read them, write marginal comments as you are so inspired, and compose a written critique in the form of a letter to the author. These critiques are writing assignments. Learning to be a good critic will help you to become a better writer. We will provide guidelines for these critiques before the first set is due.

Evaluations: At the end of the quarter, you will be required to write a self-evaluation and an evaluation of your seminar leader. At the end of your tenure in the program, you will be required to submit your self-evaluation for inclusion in your formal transcript. Your self-evaluation ought to represent your very best work of the quarter and speak honestly about your experience. We will conduct evaluation writing workshops at the end of each quarter to help you reflect on your work and write your evaluations.

Portfolios: Throughout the program, maintain a portfolio, which should include your SINCWAs, essays (including drafts), DR responses to your papers, your DR responses to colleagues’ papers, and, at the end of the quarter, your own self-evaluation, and any other academic work you choose to include. When the faculty write evaluations, they do so with portfolios open before them. We will explain the organization we require for portfolios in class. You cannot receive an evaluation, evaluation conference, or academic credit without turning in a complete portfolio on the date when it is due.

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